One of my lowest times occurred in 1998, when I divorced and thus lost my healthcare insurance. I was looking after three children, unemployed, searching for self-esteem after a coldly wearing marriage. In any other Western nation, my marital status would have had no effect whatsoever on how doctors viewed me. If I lived in Canada, no one would care about my divorce – other than to assure me that life happens – and my ability to cure a sinus infection would be unimpaired. Because I lived several hundred miles south of the Canadian border, I was suddenly uninsured, and unable to afford expensive insurance despite being a rare user of medical services. Overnight, my status changed from “favored nation” to SP. Self-pay.
I’ve never felt more alone and unappreciated by the country in which I was born and raised. Not only was I coping with emotional hurdles and trying to maintain a cheerful, nurturing environment for three children, my nation cared not a whit about my health.
Here’s a conundrum: a person who just turned 64 years old is struck by a hit-and-run driver, raced to the hospital, given all sorts of tests and surgeries and therapies – and must pay the resultant astronomical bill herself, with possible bankruptcy the result, even if she has insurance, since the insurance company may twist and turn to avoid paying a penny.
If the car strikes her on the day she turns 65, however, her pain may be just as severe, her recovery just as long, but she won’t fear the prospect of financial ruin.
What a difference a year makes!
Why should it?
Why shouldn’t everyone be treated as though they’re 65? Why must 60-year-olds hope and pray they can make it five more years without a hit-and-runner, a tumor, a stroke or heart attack?
I’m not talking heroic care like transplants. Nor cosmetic surgery just to look more attractive. I’m not talking Viagra, and I don’t even mean expensive fertility procedures (Australian clinics have discovered that much infertility is down to a women’s weight – when she reaches her healthy weight, she’s significantly more likely to get pregnant without medical intervention).
What I mean is the basics of medicine. Vaccinating children, setting broken bones, eliminating infection, stitching up cuts.
With many others, I rejoice that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords not only survived an assassination attempt but has already – two weeks later – been moved to another hospital. Let’s not forget, though, she’s a member of Congress, so her healthcare policy comes with bells and whistles . . . because Congress chose to generously cover its members. Giffords faces more pain and a lengthy recovery, but she luckily doesn’t face potential bankruptcy because of extensive medical bills.
Why shouldn’t all US citizens be able to say the same?